Sanchirico Hired as IPEI Executive Director Amid Organizational Changes

By: Erica Palumbo and Mark Warren

Word Count: 862


Sanchirico Hired as IPEI Executive Director Amid Organizational Changes

On the heels of an infrastructure overhaul, the Ithaca Public Education Initiative’s board of directors appointed their first executive director, Christine Sanchirico, last month to advance its vision for providing aid to Ithaca City School District schools for local programs and projects.


The organization previously relied solely on a team of volunteers, but is changing its structure by having Sanchirico fill their first, full-time paid board position.


Terry Byrnes, president of the IPEI and committee member for 16 years, said the executive director position was created after seeing the significant difference a paid committee member could make for the initiative. Byrnes said the committee hired their first temporary part-time employee, Julie Lagenbacher, last year as an administrative and program associate.


“We realized we have to have a permanent paid leadership in order to support the volunteers,” Byrnes said. “For the sustainability of the organization, you can’t go forward depending on just people’s free time so that was when we decided to hire an executive director.”


The search for an executive director began in January and closed in late April. Byrnes said the committee chose Sanchirico out of 70 applicants because their goals overlap and they believe she will be able to succeed amid the infrastructural changes.


“Probably the most important feature was someone with not-for profit experience who understands how a collaborative board works, who understands fundraising and how you support a mission like ours,” she said. “But it also requires someone who was willing to take on the challenge of transitioning and all-volunteer board to a different structure.”


According to Byrnes, the IPEI’s purpose is to share the resources of the Ithaca community with its students, primarily, but also with its teachers, by bringing resources into the classroom. The initiative links teachers up with outside individuals and resources and also provides them with funds to get the students additional hands-on experience outside the classroom.


In addition to the creation of Sanchirico’s position, the committee has moved its main operations to its first tangible location: the Just Be Cause Center for Not-for-Profit Development. Jennifer Engel, one of the IPEI’s vice presidents, said the hiring of Sanchirico and the addition of the new office will allow them to unify their operation and clear up clutter.


“Part of our strategic plan was not only to hire an executive director,” she said. “But to try to get some of the paperwork from our living rooms, hallways and desks at home to a central location.”


The overhaul also comes after one committee member resigned early this year due to an increased workload, two others’ terms expired and four new board members were added.

Running a staff of 18 board members, school collaborations and fundraisers — including an adult spelling bee — all comprise the executive director’s responsibilities. Sanchirico acknowledged that the position is still new to her and added that her main focus for now is becoming familiar with the business environment.


“The first year in this position I am going to be in an observing and learning role,” she said. “There is a very steep learning curve when you start a big job like this. I’m learning about the organization and everything we do and getting to know people in the community that will be interacting with us. I don’t come in and just start slashing everything. I want to see what works and then take it from there so I can build on the structure and keep it going.”

Although IPEI has a new location and staff, they hope to maintain the same success they have experienced since the organization began in 1996. Last year, the IPEI raised $671,397, and $329,913 of those funds were given to teachers in the Ithaca City School District in the form of grants. Byrnes pointed out that the initiative is not endowed by federal, state or county money.


The funds they raise through public and private donations and fundraisers allow the schools they benefit to participate in special programs like “Kids Discover the Trail”. This program allows students to visit museums, preserves and other local sites which allow them to learn about the community in a fun way. The kids also are assigned older student ‘buddies’ that accompany them as they explore. Sites included on the trail are the Cayuga Nature Center, the Johnson Museum of Art and the Museum of the Earth among others.


Alexandra Evans ‘13 took photographs of the children on the Discover the Trail program as part of her Park Photo Activism class and said she experienced first-hand how the IPEI benefits public school children.


“I witnessed how the program allowed first graders to engage in paleontology throughout the school year both in school and locally at the Museum of the Earth,” she said. “I could see IPEI goals at work as I photographed Kids Discover the Trail, such as the buddy component that connects elementary schools in the district.”


Hoping to continue providing kids with outside, hands-on experience through programs like these, Sanchirico said she looks forward to using her new position to bolster the initiative’s efforts and continue raising awareness about the importance of community support for its educational institutions.


Christine Sanchirico

Executive Director, Ithaca Public Education Initiative (IPEI)



Terry Byrnes

President, IPEI



Jennifer Engel

Vice President, IPEI



Alexandra Evans

Ithaca College 2013 graduate & Discover The Trail photographer

(859) 486-0001 (cell)



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